Pixel Trade, Interview With Shantanu Starick

Photographer Shantanu Starick hasn’t spent a dime since June 2012. Instead, he’s bartering his way around the world, trading his photography services for food, shelter and transport in a project he calls The Pixel Trade.

His goal is to reach all seven continents using trade as his only currency. So far, Shantanu has photographed musicians in Melbourne, designers in Dublin, and dancers in Brooklyn. He’s traded with companies like Tumblr and Vimeo, shot for restaurants and raincoat designers, and helped everyone from event planners to app developers.

He provides his services for free and asks the client simply give him a good meal, a comfy place to sleep, and a ticket to the next trade. Shantanu’s participated in nearly 200 trades so far, and has no plans to stop.

“I will continue to trade with as many people as possible until the well of human compassion and curiosity dries up and I reach all seven continents,” he said.

Global Yodel caught up with Shantanu to learn more about The Pixel Trade. Read on to learn how the project began, and what it’s like to be truly free from the trappings of money.

Tell us how the Pixel Trade project began. If you trace it back to what you’d consider the “sperm and the egg” of the project, then the beginning was when two thoughts went to bed one night and mated. The first came from a sketch in my journal. I had written ‘I wonder how cheaply I can travel the globe using my photography skills?’ The second came from a desire to focus primarily on photography instead of splitting it with my architectural studies. A few months later The Pixel Trade was born. I landed in Melbourne, Australia, with only one trade lined up and I wasn’t allowed to spend a cent of money again.

Which countries have you visited during The Pixel Trade project so far? Spain, Portugal, Holland, Germany, Ireland, Morocco, India, Australia, New Zealand and The United States.

Tell us about your process for deciding what to photograph in each place you visit. Initially I wasn’t in any kind of boat to be fussy about what I photographed. I had to take what came my way so there were no gaps between trades. Then as time went on and the calendar started to fill a month, two months, three months ahead, I naturally became a little pickier with who I traded with. So now I generally fill my time with subjects that are interesting to me, or have a good message behind them, or good people behind them.

inline 1 GY-PIxel-table

Tell us about the people you’ve met. Do you notice similarities among the people you work with? I stopped looking for trends when I realized how diverse people are. If you had to label them, I would say most people I trade with are doing something interesting with their lives and have a drive to do great things, be it for their family, creatively, or with a business. I remember reading the words of a philosopher and he believed that people were inherently good. I believe that.

What is the best reaction someone has had to your project? “Holy fuck” comes up a lot in email subjects. I enjoy this because words of enthusiasm and excitement often follow. This reassures me that other people out there get excited by the same things as I do.

What is the most interesting trade you participated in? “Most” and “favorite” and those kind of words are something I haven’t used in a long time. I realized that it is impossible to pick one trade apart from all the others. Even the most visually boring, photographically, can often lead to be an incredibly interesting experience.

inline 2 GY-PIxel-photo-682x1024

What is the strangest trade you’ve participated in? I wish I could say it was a man who only gave me lettuce for dinner because he thought it was magical, or a woman who wanted to pluck every chest hair of mine. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the strangest trades are the ones who don’t really have a brief or understand the rules of the project. The result is maybe some bad food, awkward conversations, and a few reluctant clicks of the camera. Nothing too painful.

What was the craziest thing you’ve experienced so far? The project has allowed for a lot of “crazy” things to happen so I’ll just pick one at random which was a helicopter flight in New Zealand where I was able to direct the pilot and hang outside the chopper while moving around mountains and hovering above vineyards.

What is the best meal you’ve eaten on your journey? I have eaten like a king for pretty much 95% of the project. I’ve photographed food projects all around the world and each time I pop more of Mother Nature into my mouth, I wonder how life could possibly taste any better. The best meals occur frequently. That said, Ireland has something very special with food going on, you just need to find it amongst the mutton stews.

inline 3 GY-PIxel-Trade-vegetables

While I’m sure each spot you’ve visited has its unique merits, which destination did you enjoy the most? Was there any place you didn’t enjoy? The biggest slap in the face was Ireland. By “slap in the face” I mean it hit me with silk, love and absolute awe. Why this was the case would take a few chapters of a novel to even scratch the service. Just know this: after traveling to many parts of the world, this place has caught my soul in more ways than one. The places I don’t enjoy are the ones that are too removed from what I value. I’m a country kid at heart. If I spend to much time in cities or heavily populated areas, I naturally grow resistant to wanting to be there and shut down creatively.

What have you learned about money and possessions during this time? Take a moment to realize how many times money enters your thoughts in a single day. Now imagine all that time opening for other thoughts or activities, like talking with someone or thinking of new ideas. Money has its traps, just like trade does, just like anything does. If you can see the trap, walk around it and continue on your journey, you start to become far more accepting of the so-called obstacles that come your way. They don’t seem like obstacles in the end. What I’ve learned about money is the boundaries it places on both the physical and mental world. Money isn’t all bad and trade isn’t flawless either. Balancing the two is probably where we should direct our attention.

How has this project changed you? It has changed my perception of what is valuable and how I want to work, not only as a photographer but in all relationships. Adaptability is another thing I’ve learned; I’ve had to become good at this.

How has this project surprised you? The biggest surprises were a few moments when I just didn’t want to get on a flight to go to a new place and meet new people. I thought I would never get sick of traveling, but when you are moving between countries and continents as much as I have (which is another surprise in itself), you start to appreciate being stationary.

If you could go back in time and talk to your 12-year-old self, what would you say? Carry on, and embrace the chest hair.

Do you have any other projects up your sleeve? In a few weeks I’ll be launching the Bazaar. It’s a portal for those who want to trade to barter their skills and services with some of the companies and people I work with.

Who are three of your favorite photographers right now? I have always admired Steve McCurry and always will. Michael Kenna and Simon Høgsberg are the other two.

When the project ends and you start spending money again, what will you buy first? Yogurt.


This Yodel by Helen Anne Travis